TEACHER PROFILE: JOY DAVIS
Growing up in Nashville, Tennessee, Joy Davis has been pursuing the agility of movement since an early age. With her own intuition, she has pathed her fruitful career as an artist, dance educator, and scholar. Becoming a Countertechnique teacher in 2012, she is now an Associate Professor of Dance at the Boston Conservatory at Berklee, US, alongside producing her own choreographic work. Here Joy reflects on her path to become an artist and teacher, and how no matter what your dance background is, Countertechnique will always bring a basket of new possibilities.
By Madeline Harms.
Tell me, how did you start dancing?
When I was a kid I was always making up dances with my sister. I just wanted to dance freely and had a lot of encouragement from my mother to play and explore. I actually refused to take studio lessons! It wasn’t until my mid-teens, when I was in my high school’s dance team, that I realised I needed formal dance training. It was getting harder and I could no longer just rely on my coordination and ability to pick up movement. So at the age of 16, I drove myself to my first class and learnt the basics of ballet amongst 8 year olds. I was on fire for it and eager to begin and catch up!
It was clear to me from that moment, that this is what I was doing and I haven’t stopped since. However, things have changed over the years and my world view of dance has constantly been opened and shattered; there has been a constant recycling of what is possible.
How do you look back at your time at university?
I still look back and wonder if I had done a formal high level of training as a young dancer, what would have been different about my career now. While I wasn’t in a rigorous program that was pointing me in one dance career direction, it taught me that anything is possible and you can charter your own territory. That formation set the tone for my whole career. I’ve had quite an untraditional pathway in my career and there have been surprises at every turn.
In your professional career have there been any particular highs and lows you would like to share?
I had an injury that was present for numerous years but erupted recently. Now it has recovered and I have a much deeper understanding of how to take care of it. The rehabilitation has been really strong through a wonderful physical therapist and acupuncturist, as well as the training of Countertechnique. Anouk van Dijk has been my mentor throughout this injury. Perhaps it is cheesy to say, but the highlight of my career is definitely having encountered Countertechnique. I felt I had finally found my thing!
How did you come across Countertechnique and why did it grasp your interest?
I first met Anouk van Dijk and Nina Wollny, at the American Dance Festival in 2005. I had only been dancing for 6 years and loved it because it was the hardest thing I had ever done. In my first class with Anouk I was totally disorientated. No one had ever asked me to move in this way before. The love of challenge in me perked up and I knew this was it! It was like making a 90 degree right turn in my dancing life and I’ve been following it since.
What is the major difference you found about Countertechnique and how has it affected the way you dance?
Countertechnique doesn’t make any assumptions, which is one of the profound aspects of the technique. It made me realise I didn’t have to look like something else. In terms of technique, form and coordination, it was a radical switch when I realised that I was so external. I was using my coordination and my visual sensibilities and to copy as a mechanism for learning. I felt like I dropped into myself and became conscious of what I was thinking and what was happening in my body.
When I talk about my background, there is a tone of regret from not having done a more formal training, but today I see that it doesn’t really matter. I see high-level technical dancers, making the same discoveries that I was making. It doesn’t matter where you’re coming from, Countertechnique is going to ask of you to reflect on what you are doing now. This question is then completely supported by a lot of possibilities. If you don’t know what you’re doing, or you’re not sure what to do, it gives you options. The way it has developed has also been by asking these questions. It’s not only theoretical, it’s incredibly practical. So it is all coming from earnest experience and thorough thoughtfulness.
When did you decide to become a teacher?
After having attended numerous One Body One Career intensives in Amsterdam, one morning I received an email from the Countertechnique team inviting me to apply for the Countertechnique Teaching program. I spilt my coffee I was so excited! And that was it! I didn’t know that I wanted to be a teacher, until I found something that I wanted to teach. I not only had the desire to keep doing it myself, but I also wanted to share this with other people.
Do you have something in particular that you like focus on in your class?
One of the most profound things to teach a young dancer is the process of how to shift attention. To give tools and practical possibilities to help dancers think differently, more internally, has become a driver in my teaching. That and to just have fun! To be a facilitator of the fact that we can work hard but enjoy ourselves at the same time.
What is the most common difficulty you find new dancers to Countertechnique encounter?
One of the hardest things to deal with on a physical level is the horizontal falling. There is a moment in horizontal falling where dancers feel out of control, therefore they feel like they are doing it wrong, or that they’re not ‘getting it’. Because I am asking, and the technique is asking, the dancers to adapt differently to achieving something.
I purposefully change spatial orientation frequently in the class, towards or away from the mirror, because I see it as an allurement to look at oneself and use it as a feedback mechanism to be ‘right’. Through the approach and philosophy of the Countertechnique language, the narrowness of approaching it one way or immediately ‘getting it right’ begins to open up. The initial phases of that beginning to open is a real challenge for dancers. It takes time to have the courage to ride through that unknown falling space, until you begin to understand the other elements, tools and frameworks that are there to deal with your own weight.
You have quite a rigorous teaching schedule, how do you keep your classes fresh?
One thing I found that helps is to just tell more jokes in class! In my personal practice, I am going a little deeper and doing closer distances inside my body, as a post-injury practice. So I’ll be doing that and giving something similar to my students, talking about the area, but going deeper into my own body for my own healing and stabilisation.
Besides being a Countertechnique teacher what other roles do you have?
At the Boston Conservatory I teach several courses. I teach a dance history course and dance theater improvisation which is something that I am really interested in. This is my full-time job alongside my choreographic and performance projects. It’s a little nuts, but it necessary to keep the outside work going. It has been important for me to dance in other people’s work, as well as keep making my own work, to keep my artistry fed. Because to keep myself busy and curious as an artist, only makes me a better teacher.
What would be one your of most memorable teaching experiences?
Last summer Countertechnique came back to the six week summer intensive at American Dance Festival and I split the time with my colleague Kira. It was a realisation of coming full circle, to now being the person at the front of the room sharing this information! It was profound and such an honour to be there.
One last thought to share - if only you had known?
That I have always been enough. This would be my message to dancers, to know that who you are, as you are, is enough. Of course there is always room to grow, but if you feel like you have a long way to go as a dancer, that doesn’t negate from who you are. You can grow, accept challenges, work hard and keep going, but you’re still enough!
Find out here where Joy is teaching next.
Next month, the Teacher Profile Interview Series will feature dancer and Master Teacher Countertechnique James Vu Anh Pham.
The Countertechnique Teacher Profile Interview Series is a monthly publication, initiated in October 2017. Madeline Harms is an Australian dancer and writer, currently based in Mainz, Germany. Learn more about Madeline on her blog Travelling Dancers.